Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pressing, Depressing

Twins 3, Royals 4
This is the 2nd loss of the season that I'm going to pin squarely on the shoulders of the Twins inadequate depth. Between 9 H (5 for extra bases) and 3 BB, 8 different guys in the lineup reached base at least once. The one who didn't: Drew Butera, who ended 3 innings with men on base, including hanging Danny Valencia out to dry on a missed squeeze bunt. Any kind of rally sustaining PAs from him might have given the Twins' pitchers a bigger cushion.

Scott Baker was good enough that it almost didn't matter. He lasted into the 7th, when he was relieved with 1 out by the freshly called up Alex Burnett. Burnett got the last 2 outs of that inning, and the 1st of the 8th before allowing a 2B to Wilson Betemit. Matt Capps was warming in the bullpen, and had needed just 6 pitches to complete his inning the day before. But Gardy elected to save him for a save opportunity that would never come, and instead rely upon a young reliever who didn't earn a spot on the opening day roster to protect a 1-run lead with the tying run in scoring position.

And Burnett actually did his job, though he got into trouble by falling behind just about everybody. It was the defense that did him in, as Alexi Casilla clanged a one-hopper to his glove side, and then Butera threw the ball into CF while attempting to gun down super fast PR Jarrod Dyson. That let the tying run score and put the winning run at 3B with just one out. After a BB, the winning run came home on a little flare behind 3B that Casilla flagged down but couldn't get to the plate in time to stop Dyson. Had either play been made, the Twins would have taken a lead into the 9th - the slower Betemit would likely have stayed put on a short fly to the SS.

On Saturday, the Twins managed to get themselves shut down on 2 H by Sean O'Sullivan, a starter so erratic that he nearly threw half his pitches out of the strike zone. Actually, he threw more than half his pitches out of the zone, since several of the balls the Twins put in play were plummeting below the knees. Incredibly, they were lucky to get the 1st H (it was an attempted sac bunt that drew a wild throw) and both R, one of which scored on a DP (thank goodness for the extra out the Royals gave), and the other on another throwing error that should have ended the inning. Altogether, the Twins drew 7 BB, and had men on base nearly constantly for the 1st 6 innings, but could only get what the royals handed to them.

The Twins handed one back in the 3rd on a bounced relay throw from "2B" Michael Cuddyer on what should have been an inning-ending DP. The Royals took one on a no-doubter HR from Billy Butler. And the Twins gave another one away when rookie Rene Tosoni played a leadoff single into a triple with an ill-advised dive. Brian Duensing took a tough-luck loss, though he deserved to allow only 1 ER.

The wheels came off in the 8th once again. Joe Nathan gave up a 2B to Butler, then retired 2 of the next 3 around an IBB. He made one huge mistake: hitting Matt Treanor (a BA under .200 - shouldn't he be on our team?) with 3-2 pitch to load the bases. Gardy went to Jose Mijares, who did his job by getting the lefty to hit a weak-ass ground ball. Too weak for Cuddyer, who had no play by the time he reached it, allowing an insurance run to score. Jim Hoey came on and walked in another insurance run, then got a routine grounder. The throw went to Justin Morneau, who simply didn't catch the ball. 2 more R. Then a 3-run bomb to Alex Gordon. Then another weak grounder that Cuddyer didn't have the range to turn into an out. Then a bloop down the LF line that Tosoni bobbled, allowing the final R to score. When the dust settled, a tight game had turned into a laugher. I didn't think it was funny, though.

Time for a closed-door team meeting, at which Denard Span spoke up to try to inspire his teammates. Too eager to make his actions speak as loudly as his words, he went hitless in 5 AB while seeing a total of 13 pitches. That on a day when his teammates once again walked 7 times. Let it come to you, Denard.

Carl Pavano walked away looking like he didn't know how to pitch, and took his frustrations out on a garbage can in the dugout. You can't do it all yourself, Carl. But he wasn't exactly cuffed around until the 6th inning. Everything that happened before that was the fault of more shoddy IF defense, and Cuddyer wasn't even in the lineup on this day. Pavano was lucky to get an unassisted putout on a chopper to the right of the mound when both Morneau and Luke Hughes charged the ball and nobody covered 1B. Later, the Twins botched a rundown on a pickoff throw when Morneau got in the way of Pavano, who had rotated in to cover 1B, and caught the ball behind the retreating baserunner. That extra out would turn into a run. The Twins gave the Royals 2 extra outs in the 4th, both courtesy of Casilla bobbles. Slow it down, Alexi. Or maybe get a new glove.

Casilla had his best day of the year at the plate, with 2 3B and a BB. Morneau finally got his 1st tater of the year, just barely sneaking one over the RF fence. Jason Kubel continued his scorching hitting, going 1 for 2 with 2 BB to raise his line to .354/.406/.510. Glen Perkins had another solid outing in relief. That's it for the positives.

In contrast to the listless effort they gave in the previous series, the intensity on the part of every Twins player to be the one to lift the team out of this slump was palpable in KC. But the results were no better, as though they were tangled in a knot that gets tighter the more they struggle. This funk now most definitely mental as much as it is physical, and they may require some shock to the system to get themselves out of it.

  • To that end, Kevin Slowey pitched 5.2 IP at Fort Myers yesterday and is ready to be activated from the DL. That could happen in a starting capacity if Francisco Liriano or Nick Blackburn fail to pull themselves together.
  • Kyle Gibson had his 4th consecutive strong outing at Rochester. Through 5 GS he has 26 IP, 22 H, 10 ER, 3 HR, 4 BB and 27 K for a 1.00 WHIP and 3.46 ERA. He's giving every indication that he'll be ready for a June call-up should the opportunity arise.
  • Trevor Plouffe has shaken off his brutal spring to put up some very strong numbers in his 1st few weeks with the Red Wings. He's batting .282/.344/.590 with 4 2B, 3B, and 6 HR. The reviews on his defense are still mixed, but he's got to look like an upgrade to Casilla right now.

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